Inspectors from the Flemish nature agency (ANB) caught two men hunting illegally in a wood near Aalst last week, one of whom is a forest ranger employed to tackle poaching.
The men were caught in a 4×4, armed with heavy-calibre weapons with night-sights, hunting in the dark – all of which is illegal in Belgium.
The inspectors were on the scene after local people had complained of the noise of firearms in the night.
One of the two has another surprise in store: he is a forest ranger, or a special constable employed to patrol hunting grounds and ensure the laws are being observed. And on the night in question, he was still in uniform.
Special constables are not employed by the region. Usually, they are themselves members of the hunting community, employed by landowners or hunting groups to police the regulations, and make sure the hunters can avoid exactly this sort of bad publicity.
They do, however, have some of the powers of an officer of the law, and can write a summons for offences, though they have no power of arrest.
The ANB officers do, on the other hand, and when they found seven more illegal weapons and illegal noise-suppressors, the two men were taken into custody.
“This is totally unacceptable,” Dirk Sonck. secretary of the local hunting association, told De Standaard. At least one of the poachers was involved with his club.
“They not only commit serious violations of hunting laws, but also gun laws. Our association hunts on more than 9,000 hectares of land. An area very rich in wildlife, with a beautiful deer population. That attracts people with bad intentions though. And we are approaching the end of the year, when venison is always very popular.”
It’s all about profit,” said Lieven Busschaert, a hunter and an outspoken opponent of poaching in Flanders.
“A deer like that will easily bring €250 euros during the holidays. Shoot twenty of them, and you’ve made €5,000. These guys are a pair of crooks who are bringing all of hunting into discredit. While we are concerned with wildlife management to prevent deer populations from collapsing, they enjoy playing the villain. They confirm every ugly prejudice about hunting. I used to be proud to be a hunter, nowadays I hardly even dare mention it.”